December 3, 2018
Seismic Survey Firms Get MMPA Approval
REPRINTED FROM COASTAL REVEIW ONLINE
National Marine Fisheries Service has given its go-ahead for seismic
surveys for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic, approving five
companies for incidental harassment of marine mammals under the Marine
Mammal Protection Act.
Seismic blasting cannot begin until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, issues its final permits.
The service’s Incidental Harassment Authorizations require monitoring,
reporting and mitigation measures to reduce the harmful effects of
survey activities on marine mammals. Observers are to be on board
survey vessels to listen and watch for marine life and alert operators
if a protected species comes within a certain distance.
Restrictions are to be placed on operations to eliminate or reduce
impacts to sensitive species in their preferred habitats. Acoustic
monitoring to detect marine mammal vocalizations beneath the ocean
surface will be required. Seismic operations are to be phased in
gradually to alert animals in the area and reduce potential for
exposure to intense noise. Shutdowns will be required when certain
sensitive species or groups are observed.
The authorizations cover operations along the Atlantic Coast from Cape May, New Jersey, to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
In developing its requirements for the authorizations, National Marine
Fisheries said it reviewed five separate applications from companies
involved in geophysical surveys using airgun arrays in the Atlantic
Ocean and listened to public feedback on both the applications and
The five companies are CGG, ION GeoVentures, Spectrum GEO Inc., TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. and WesternGeco.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, Donna Wieting, director of
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Office
of Protected Resources, said NOAA Fisheries had done “a very thorough
job” in reviewing public comments and responding to them.
The authorizations are valid for one year after an approved company
notifies NOAA Fisheries, as required, that they are set to begin
surveys. The latest expiration date for authorizations is Nov. 30, 2020.
Environmental advocates noted Friday that BOEM had previously denied
permits based on the risks to marine life outweighing the value of any
information to be gleaned from the surveys.
“This action flies in the face of massive opposition to offshore
drilling and exploration from over 90 percent of coastal municipalities
in the proposed blast zone,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at
the group Oceana. “These permits were already denied because of the
known harm that seismic airgun blasting causes. President Trump is
essentially giving these companies permission to harass, harm and
possibly even kill marine life, including the critically endangered
North Atlantic right whale – all in the pursuit of dirty and dangerous
offshore oil. This is the first step toward offshore drilling in the
Atlantic and we’re going to make sure coastal communities know what’s
happening and fight this.”
Oceana announced it had launched an interactive “We’re Watching” map to track seismic vessels in near real-time off the East Coast.
Also, the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, which
represents more than 42,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing
families from Maine to Florida, condemned the action.
“The Outer Banks business community depends on a clean and beautiful
coast to support our multi-billion-dollar tourism, recreation and
fishing industries,” said Karen Brown, president and CEO of the Outer
Banks Chamber of Commerce and also a member of the alliance. “The
release of these permits puts us one step closer to oil-covered beaches
and economic disaster.”